Last Call in Margaritaville
Every city has problems. San Francisco wrestles with its homeless problems, Detroit with housing abandonment, Atlanta with sprawl. Then there's St. Petersburg, Fla. Its problem: It's running out of beach bums.
Not the touristy kinds, who spend a week baking on the sand then go back home, but the real, 365-day-a-year beach bums who devote a minimum amount of their time to working and a maximum amount to perching on bar stools. Guys like Jay Crawford, whom the St. Petersburg Times held up as one of the last of his breed. Credentials? "He gave up his cell phone, has no job and, most importantly, has lived on the beach long enough to be able to walk into any local bar and have his beer in front of him before he sits down," the Times says.
Still not impressed? Crawford, 58, showed up when a movie was casting extras for a beach bar scene. He was picked instantly. When he asked about wardrobe, the casting director said, "Wear what you have on."
So what makes the Jay Crawfords of St. Petersburg an endangered species? "Habitat destruction mostly," the Times says. "It's really not affordable out here anymore," Crawford explains. "They're tearing down the cute little houses and putting in condos." Actually, Crawford is one of the lucky ones. He inherited some money a few years ago and used it to buy a house, but few beach bums can raise that kind of money. One of his friends is so down on his luck that he showed up at Crawford's house with an unusual request. "He asked if he could sleep underneath my house," Crawford said. "I said OK, but for one night only. I can't make a habit of it."
Footnote: It makes for good Jimmy Buffett songs, but living in Margaritaville is no paradise. Crawford has been in and out of drug and alcohol rehab, taken chemotherapy for lung cancer and done a short stretch in jail for marijuana possession. He has also been married three times. The last marriage came undone, he said, over an incident in which he dumped a pitcher of beer on his wife's head and she ran him down with a car. "I didn't prosecute," Crawford said, "because it was kind of half my fault." Posted 5/15/2004
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